Following a bunch of failed solo singles and a brief stint as lead guitarist in psych-rock act John's Children, Marc Bolan formed Tyrannosaurus Rex in 1967. The first incarnation didn't last very long after a disastrous solitary performance as a four-piece at the Electric Garden in London's Covent Garden.
Uniting with percussionist Steve Peregrin Took and many sessions later saw the act of just the two of them mature enough to become a modest success between 1968-1969 especially with the hippie crowd, now with three albums under their belt, two of which boasting titles as huge as the creature they named themselves after: My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair... But Now They're Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows (1968) Prophets, Seers & Sages: The Angels of the Ages (1968) and Unicorn (1969); that final effort coming in striking distance of a UK 10 charting. While Bolan's early solo material was rock and roll-influenced pop music, now he was writing dramatic and baroque songs with lush melodies and surreal lyrics filled with Greek and Persian mythology, mixed with his own poetic creations.
By 1969 there was a rift developing between the two halves of Tyrannosaurus Rex. Bolan and his girlfriend, June Child, were living a quiet life while Bolan worked on his book of poetry entitled The Warlock Of Love, as well as concentrating on his songs and performance skills. Took, however, had fully embraced the anti-commercial, drug-taking ethos of the UK Underground scene and also began writing his own songs, and wanted the duo to perform them, but Bolan disapproved of this idea, rejecting most them for the duo's fourth album, A Beard of Stars (1970). Their relationship ended, but not before completing a contractually obligated US tour that failed from the get-go. The event was poorly promoted and planned, the acoustic duo were overshadowed by the loud electric acts they were billed with. The final blow was when Took drew from the shock rock style of Iggy Pop in an effort to counter these handicaps, but it fell far from the style the pair were known for. As soon as he returned to the UK, Bolan replaced Took with percussionist Mickey Finn to complete the aforementioned fourth album. Took went on to perform his own songs and help found several other acts.
As well as progressively shorter titles, Tyrannosaurus Rex's albums began to show higher production values, more accessible songwriting from Bolan, and experimentation with electric guitars and a true rock sound. This progression was displayed on the band's new self-titled album T. Rex. On this album they continued the process of simplification by shortening their name, and completed the move to electric guitars. The shortened name came when producer Tony Visconti supposedly got fed up with writing the name out in full on studio chits and tapes and began to abbreviate it; when Bolan first noticed he was angry but later claimed the idea to shorten the band's name was his. No matter who took the credit, the act was rewarded with a UK top 10.
Now a full band, which featured bassist Steve Currie and drummer Bill Legend, was formed to tour to growing audiences, as teenagers began replacing the hippies of old. After Chelita Secunda added two spots of glitter while Bolan watched an appearance on Top of the Pops, the performance would often be credited as the birth of glam rock. After Bolan's display, glam rock would gain popularity in the UK and Europe during 1971-1972.
Often considered to be their best album, US the chart-topping Electric Warrior (1971) brought commercial success to the group. Although the album harped back to Bolan's accoustic roots with several other tracks, it was the electrified Get It On, that hit number one in the UK. In January 1972 it became a top ten hit in the US, where the song was re-titled Bang a Gong (Get It On) to distinguish it from a 1971 song by the group Chase.
T. Rex's third album The Slider (1972) proved to be the band's most successful album in the US, but not as much as the previous in the UK, where it peaked at the fourth spot.
Tanx (1973) would mark the end of the classic T. Rex line-up. An eclectic album containing several melancholy ballads and rich production, the album showcased the T. Rex sound bolstered by extra instrumental embellishments such as Mellotron and saxophone.
During the recording members began to quit, starting with Bill Legend in November. To finish, T. Rex had an extended line-up which included second guitarist Jack Green and BJ Cole on pedal steel. Bolan split with producer Tony Visconti, then in December 1974, Mickey Finn quit. Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow was released on 1 February 1974, and reached number 12 in the UK. The album harkened back to the Tyrannosaurus Rex days with long song-titles and lyrical complexity, but was not a critical success.
Bolan's Zip Gun (1975) was self-produced by Bolan who, in addition to writing the songs, gave his music a harder, more futuristic sheen. The album was slammed by both the US and UK press who claimed he was ripping off the style Bowie's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars! Always a fantasist with an alleged Napoleon complex, during this time Bolan became increasingly isolated, while high tax rates in the UK drove him into exile in Monte Carlo and the US. No longer a vegetarian, Bolan put on weight due to consumption of hamburgers and alcohol, and was ridiculed in the music press.
Although better received by critics, the next album, Futuristic Dragon (1976), featured a schizophrenic production style that veered from wall of sound-style songs to nostalgic nods to the old T. Rex boogie machine; it only managed to reach number 50, however.
In early 1977 Dandy in the Underworld was released to critical acclaim. Bolan had slimmed down, and the songs too had a stripped-down, streamlined sound. A spring UK tour with punk band The Damned on support garnered positive reviews. As Bolan enjoyed a new surge in popularity, he mused about performing again with Finn and Took, as well as reuniting with producer Tony Visconti. This was never to happen, however, for on the evening of 15 September 1977 Marc Bolan and his girlfriend Gloria Jones spent the evening drinking and dining together before driving home in the early morning of the 16th where Jone's failed to negotiate a humpback bridge and crashed Bolan's purple Mini 1275GT into a tree. She sustained injuries but Bolan was killed, two weeks before his 30th birthday. This ended the band.
Since Bolan's death there have been two attempts to reform the band with former members. Since Bolan was the only member to have appeared in every T. Rex lineup as well serving as the band's lead guitarist, lead singer and main songwriter these groups are generally regarded as tribute bands.
In 1997 former bongo player Mickey Finn formed Mickey Finn's T-Rex which also included former T. Rex guitarist Jack Green and drummer Paul Fenton who recorded and toured with the band briefly.
In 2014 original drummer Bill Legend put together his own version of T. Rex, which was initially known as Bill Legend's T. Rex but is now known as X-T. Rex.
Steve Peregrin Took died from asphyxiation from a cocktail cherry after his throat was numbed from his use of morphine and magic mushrooms in 1980, Steve Currie also died in a car crash, in 1981, Mickey Finn succumbed to illness in 2003. Peter 'Dino' Dines died of a heart attack in 2004.